Gerald Resch: Abduction at the Vienna State Opera
Austrian composer Gerald Resch has created a new family opera, based on Mozart’s Abduction from the Seraglio, which explores the secret and magical spaces of the Vienna State Opera. Premiered on 3 October, and with 26 further performances this season, the new immersive ‘promenade’ production is explained by Gerald Resch and director Nina Blum.
The Turks, who came so threateningly close to the Austrian empire and its eastern neighbours in the 16th and 17th centuries, evoked fear and fascination in equal measure during that period. Fear above all due to the Turks military might and fascination due to the foreign and yet so dazzling art and culture of that Islamic land. Mozart’s opera Die Entführung aus dem Serail (The Abduction from the Seraglio), which was premiered under the composer’s direction at the Burgtheater in Vienna in 1782, was a reaction to the way things were perceived at the time. But it was above all a postulate for basic human needs, the struggle for love and freedom and the nobility and selflessness of each individual. Mozart shared the enthusiasm of many composers for the character of Turkish music, especially Janissary music. “The symphony, the chorus in the first act, and the final chorus I will make with Turkish music”, the composer informed his father Leopold in a letter dated 1 August 1781.
The composer Gerald Resch and the Vienna State Opera are now venturing a new interpretation of the material under the title Die Entführung ins Zauberreich (The Abduction into the Magic Kingdom), which is to be something very special in many respects. Both the location of the premiere on 3 October 2021 at the Vienna State Opera and the concept of an opera that changes its venues ‘on the move’, so to speak, are full of surprises. Gerald Resch, who cleverly incorporates Mozart’s arias into his opera for families, Mozart fans and theatre fans, has created a revolutionary new theatre form together with director Nina Blum.
“The great building of the Vienna State Opera is full of secrets”, the Vienna State Opera certainly knows best from its experience. “One of them,” as it continues, describing the new play’s conception, “perhaps the most exciting, is the enchanted door: a magical portal that is supposed to be hidden somewhere in the house and opens for one day every hundred years. If Belmonte, Konstanze and their friends manage to find the door while it is open, they are freed. If not, they must spend another hundred years in captivity. But with the help of the (young) audience, the search could be successful. The travelling opera conceived by theatre designer Nina Blum for the Haus am Ring aims to whet the appetites of children between the ages of six and 12 for opera in the course of a musical adventure journey through the building. The paths to be covered between the individual stations are also part of the production; everyone is both spectator and actor and are to have their own travel experiences. The basis for this project of just under one and a half hours is Mozart’s Abduction from the Seraglio, the additional musical numbers required for the background plot are by the Austrian composer Gerald Resch. Both family performances, in which children are accompanied by adults, and school performances have been organised.”
Sikorski, Gerald Resch’s publisher, spoke to both the composer and director Nina Blum about The Abduction into the Magic Kingdom:
Interview with Gerald Resch:
The idea behind The Abduction to the Magic Kingdom is, in terms of content, quite far removed from the original. Does that also apply to your music when compared with Mozart's original composition?
The Abduction to the Magic Kingdom uses a great deal of music from Mozart’s Abduction from the Seraglio, but rearranged, roughened up a bit, shortened and rearranged.
In addition, there is also newly composed music: for example, an interactive canon the audience uses to make a magical portal open. Or an ‘Oriental disco’ where Osmin learns how young people dance nowadays.
Thirdly, and finally, theatre music that illustrates the actors’ actions: Kickboxing sounds for the Lara Croft-like blonde, transformation sounds for the amateur magician Pedrillio, etc.
Should your music actually counteract or help open up completely new spaces or complement Mozart?
After seeing Abduction into the Magic Kingdom, you will have heard some of the best-known arias, duets and ensembles from Abduction from the Seraglio in a new context, but you will also have experienced something completely different, because the plot here is completely different to that of Mozart’s original.
What is unusual is that this piece will be a kind of ‘moving touring opera’ that moves through the venerable Vienna State Opera. How is that supposed to work? Does the audience move with it?
Exactly, it is quite a logistical challenge, and I am very glad that such a - as you rightly say - venerable house as the Vienna State Opera is prepared to take on this challenge and make some seemingly impossible things possible.
The audience meets in a central location at the Feststiege (the place you might know from television broadcasts of the Vienna Opera Ball: where all the more or less prominent people climb the stairs). There the play begins like a kind of guided tour led by Danis, a very sympathetic and enthusiastic billeteer. Only gradually does the plot tip over into the unexpected, the enchanting, the musical - the operatic. After part of the story has been told at the festival staircase, the audience wanders through various foyers into a kind of oriental bazaar with dancers, fire-eaters and snake charmers to the next venue: Osmin's seraglio. From there, the audience divides into three subgroups that lead through very different areas of the State Opera building, some of which are not otherwise open to the public. In the process, certain stations are passed through and riddles solved (similar to a ‘scavenger hunt’ at children’s birthday parties). The riddles solved together are then decisive for the audience to succeed in freeing the enchanted four friends Konstanze, Belmonte, Blondchen and Pedrillio at the third performance venue ...
This Mozart opera in particular is not entirely unproblematic due to the clichés on Islam and the understanding of Islam in the 18th century. Does Abduction into the Magic Kingdom try to address this in any way?
Our opera may not be set in the 18th century, but it is still set in a present in which people are subject to prejudices caused by their appearance, all of which turn out to be false.
In her libretto, Margit Mezgolich has translated Mozart’s twist that the benevolent Pasha Selim graciously grants freedom at the end into a modern image in a very entertaining and witty way. Just as Mozart had fun incorporating orientalisms, I too borrowed some elements from Arabic pop, for example. The finale, for instance, is a fusion of Mozart’s overture with a newly composed pseudo-oriental rap. As I live in a heavily migrant district of Vienna, the tone of this music is not entirely foreign to me.
How do you approach children in particular, who may not have had any contact with Mozart’s original before?
I think the idea of director Nina Blum, who developed the concept of the ‘travelling opera’ for Abduction into the Magic Kingdom, is a very astute way of getting an uneducated young audience interested in opera. By drawing young people into the plot through a sympathetic character (our billeteer Danis, who also improvises responses to the young guests’ input), they themselves become part of the story and personally contribute to solving many a mystery and making the evening a success.
Interview with Nina Blum:
What does the director say about the music of this new opera?
We have changed only a small part of the music. So the audience is going to find the wonderful Mozart music again - but the composer Gerald Resch has added a few things, such as the music for the paths, and there is also an entirely newly composed number. As the story, i.e. the libretto has been completely rewritten, for the original is not a suitable story for children. The original libretto has little dramaturgical tension, and the characters are not very accessible to children, they lack wit in the dialogue. The librettist Margit Mezgolich and I have tried to change that and have developed a story suitable for children with suspense and humour.
How will this ‘wandering’ through the Vienna State Opera take place with the actors of the Abduction?
Yes, the audience wanders along. The opera takes place in three different locations. It begins on the Feststiege, then as a second station the Mahler Hall - normally an intermission foyer of the State Opera - is transformed into a seraglio; from this the audience escapes together with the main characters Konstanze, Belmonte, Pedrillio and Blondchen, ending up finding the magic portal on the gallery of the State Opera, which enables the protagonists to find their way to freedom. The orchestra (nine instruments) also wanders along - even on the paths, the audience is always accompanied by a musical “carpet of sound”.
This Mozart opera in particular is not without its problems due to the clichés on Islam and the understanding of Islam in the 18th century. Does the Abduction into the Magic Kingdom try to address this in any way?
No, I decided quite deliberately not to address this issue in my production. Our Seraglio is more of a magical world where artists, jugglers and dancers live. In the costumes, too, we largely dispense with oriental elements. The figure of Pasha Selim and Osmin have merged into one figure - the 'Bossmin' - and this stands for a person who lacks a sense of refinement but his heart is in the right place. Thus, the initially uncouth Bossmin finally turns into an almost romantic man unable to attain the woman of his dreams, no matter how hard he tries. But is gentleman enough to bear this defeat with dignity and wish Belmonte and Konstanze well.
Thus the ‘cultural theme’ plays a subordinate role in my production - of great importance in our play is the question ‘What does freedom mean?’ The search for the magic portal is ultimately the search for freedom, for a new happiness.
Which elements of the play are largely suitable for bringing this subject closer to children aged six to 12?
I believe that children can and want to dive into stories if the story has a good arc of suspense – that’s what I want to achieve with my production. The story of Abduction into the Magic Kingdom intends to take children and adults on a journey into a magical world. This is helped by a dramaturgically exciting narrative thread, witty protagonists of strong character who also function as identification figures, and of course the wonderful Mozart music. Colourful and dazzling costumes as well as a stage set are also vital elements in telling the story of a magical world.
In your production, do you work with special moments of surprise, a lot of comedy and possibly also participatory actions?
There is a lot of humour in Margit Mezgolich’s dialogues, Pedrillio, for example, is also an amateur magician and surprises us at various points with his magic tricks. And my production is interactive, i.e. I work with participatory actions where the audience dances along, runs along, sings along; for example, the audience sings a common canon so that the magic portal opens ... My experience is that these ‘participatory actions’ are important for children and adults to be able to fully engage in the opera experience - they become part of the story themselves ...
Abduction into the Magic Kingdom (2020)
A touring opera through the building of the Vienna State Opera for children aged six and over, freely adapted from The Abduction from the Seraglio by W. A. Mozart, based on a libretto by Margit Mezgolich.
3 October 2021 (World premiere)
3/4 January 2022
Vienna State Opera
Conductor: Markus Henn
Director: Nina Blum
> Further information on Work: Die Entführung ins Zauberreich
Photo: Peter Mayr